Merck Backing out of Life-Saving Vaccination Agreement

The vaccination was saving the lives of millions of children in West Africa.

A nurse prepares the rotavirus vaccine to give to a baby during a program to start vaccination against the virus. (HECTOR RETAMAL/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. is ending its long-standing agreement to provide a life-saving vaccination to West Africa.

It will, however, continue to send its rotavirus to China, where it will likely be sold at 10 times the price it goes for in Africa, NPR reported. The vaccine prevents contraction of the disease that leads to a deadly form of diarrhea responsible for the deaths of about 200,000 babies a year.

Pulling out of the agreement means Merck will fall short of its commitment to provide the shots, called RotaTeq, to the four poorest West African countries in 2018 and 2019 — Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Mali and Sao Tome and Principe.

“This was difficult decision for us, which did not come lightly,” Merck said in an email to NPR. “We would like to express our deepest regret to all of the parties involved and have offered to assist and work with UNICEF, Gavi and affected countries through the transition to alternative images (versions) of rotavirus vaccines.”

Merck sighted “supply constraints, unanticipated manufacturing issues and packaging challenges” as its reason for not fulfilling its commitment in Western Africa.

More than half a million children may not have access to the vaccine 2018 and 2019 with Merck’s decision to back out. That number could climb to two million in 2020.

“This is deeply disappointing news and in the short term will mean that children are likely to miss out on this lifesaving vaccine, leaving them vulnerable to this horrific disease,” Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance contact on the ground in Africa, said to NPR.

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.